Thursday, 17 August 2017

From D'Or to door – it's wine through the post

It’s years since anything remotely interesting has come through our letterbox, as it seems that the only people who use the postal service nowadays are charities, estate agents and Virgin Media.

So how about wine?  A flat, plastic ‘pouch’ of wine through your letterbox? This is the premise of Decanting Club, whose subscribers are posted a 150ml sample of wine each week. 

There will be those who see this as an ideal way of “exploring” different wines, which can then be ordered by the bottle. Then again others, of an indolent nature, will see it as an ideal way of drinking wine without going further than their hallway.

Sot let us persevere with this concept. After all,
it would appear to remove the anxiety associated with courier deliveries. And which of my generation, raised on Ice Pops in plastic tubes, will even need a glass?

The trouble is, there is something disturbingly surgical about these pouches. The red looks and feels like a blood transfusion bag. The white as if it should be attached to a pole as a saline drip. Or, worse, to the receiving end of a catheter.

One of my first thoughts was that they could be an ideal way to smuggle wine into venues where bottles are banned. Concerts, football matches, airline flights etc. On a cursory pat-down body search, it would just feel like the blubber of overweight. Or, for a certain section of the wine-drinking ‘community’, a breast implant.

Unfortunately you would then have to get your pouch open. There is a knack to opening plastic packaging, which I do not possess. Witness the half-destroyed blocks of cheese, or the frozen peas bursting from their bags as I wrench them open. Sealed to convey wine through the post without leakage, it will clearly take more than my fingers and teeth to open a wine pouch. – and in the present climate I do not intend trying to get a pair of scissors past that same security search.

So home drinking it is, then. Where I did try drinking the wine directly from the pouch, and made a complete mess of a perfectly good shirt. You try drinking from the corner of a plastic bag.

Does the food-grade plastic taint the wine? No. That concern surely faded years ago, when we started drinking water out of plastic bottles, where I suspect taint would be rather more noticeable than in an industrial-strength Red.

I was posted a perfectly serviceable, fruity yet taut Vinho Verde, which they then sell at a slightly ambitious £10.92 a bottle; and a repellent Valpolicella (£12.59), with a bouquet of stuffed toys and  bizarre notes of peanut and cardboard. But the intention is that you drink it (from a glass) in the week it arrives; do not assume, like me, that any modern wine packaging, like wine boxes and sealed goblets, is all about preserving wine indefinitely. This one may have suffered while I was distracted drinking other wines from actual bottles.

The Decanting Club costs from £4.50 to £6.50 per 150ml pouch, depending on your subscription. This, they say, is “cheaper than a glass of wine in a pub”, which it probably is. It depends on your pub. And the size of their glasses.

But £6.50 in the supermarket would get you an entire bottle, with just as good a chance of liking the result. Only, if you do like it, you can then drink the full 750ml. You can cook with the rest if you don’t. Or, if you’re CJ, drink it all the same.

Of course, these are not wines you will find in the supermarket. Which reinforces the idea that you are “exploring wine”, by trying “rare grapes from undiscovered regions”, and sharing details on their website. It’s a poor substitute for the sort of “exploring” of “undiscovered regions” I was brought up on, Boys’ Own stories of proper explorers, like Livingstone, Scott and Shackleton. But then I suppose their kind of exploring has become somewhat tiresome (“Oh no, not another unaided charity walk to the South Pole with a novel kind of hindrance…”). So we’ll have to make do with staying on our sofas and exploring the world of wine. That or the world of Haribo.

With an increasing number of wine merchants offering Enomatic tasting in store, there is competition in the sampling market. But the idea of wine coming through your letterbox each week? It’s all good fun, until someone loses an eye.

But in the end, of course, you’ll still be buying and getting a case of wine delivered, which will inevitably arrive when you’re out or in the toilet.

Unless they post you 60 pouches through your letterbox instead.


PK 



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Thursday, 10 August 2017

Unpacking: Minus Tricastin

So back we come from the shattering heat of the South of France, the car weighed down on its springs by cheap espadrilles and bottles of French shower gel, and recollect the following:

- Why does anyone bother to maintain a vineyard? We rumbled, stupefied by our own air-conditioning, past hectare after hectare of the things, all baking in the dust, all perfectly green despite the near-drought conditions, but thought: this must be about the most arduous crop you could choose to rear, notwithstanding sorghum, rice or alfalfa. The ground the vines stand in is either an interminable grey clay (in the wet) or a crumbling parched mantrap, painfully impossible to walk across, whether kept free of weeds or blanketed in the things. The fruit hang at knee-height, sheer back-breaking agony to tend. They require constant care and inspection, but even the most persevering cultivator will wake up one day to find a whole year's worth gone, chomped by a tiny insect or overwhelmed by blight. And if you manage to harvest the grapes (please God with one of those mechanical harvesters) all that happens is that your pride and joy disappears into a huge tank along with everybody else's and the local co-operative takes the credit. Yes, vineyards look lovely, but they're madness, just madness.

- I hadn't properly taken on board the fact that the wines of the Tricastin region are now known generically as Grignan-les-Adhemar. Of course, when it was pointed out to me that the whopping great nuclear power station at Tricastin had more or less screwed the area's branding, it made sense. I gazed down on the nuclear site, plus the TGV line, plus the A7 autoroute and the Rhône itself, from one of the delightful hilltop villages on the eastern side and had it recalled to me that in July 2008, nearly five thousand gallons of Uranium solution were accidentally released into the Tricastin enviroment; and that was the end of Côteaux du Tricastin as we knew it, a pained reinvention as Grignan-les-Adhemar following not long after. So that was where it went, I marvelled, realising that, yes indeed, I hadn't seen any around for a while. The other thing is about this is that no-one, not even the producers, can get on with the new name. And if the French find it a mouthful, what chance have we got? And - see above - how would you feel about your precious vines - which might, just for once, be in a state of rare perfection - being rendered unsellable by your own Government's nuclear programme?

- When we got to Calais - for the boat back - I couldn't find a wine warehouse to get some cheap grog in. Rather, my wife glimpsed one on the outskirts in what struck me as a slightly unpropitious spot, so I announced that we would press on towards the ferry terminal because there were bound to be a couple more at that end of town, which made more sense to me, insofar as anything ever does. Then we got to that end of town, only to find a hellish new road layout, kilometres of reinforced fencing with barbed wire on the top, a load of French squaddies wearing fatigues and carrying machine guns, and that was that. What was once the Calais Jungle has been turned into a little piece of off-limits Nevada and so, it seems, has everything else. Too late to turn back to try and find the original warehouse and anyway, has the Booze Cruise had its day? My Brother-in-law swears not, but I remember a time when you couldn't move in Calais for roadside hoardings and giant parking areas and huge, tatty sheds, all dedicated to crummy wines. But now?

- On the other hand, once back, I discovered that the completely excellent Janelle Shane - about whom I've already written - has been hard at work again with her neural networks, this time coming up with a slew of devastingly right-on, completely artificially-induced, beer names. So many terrific ones to choose from, but my top five are:

Juicy Dripple IPA
The Actoompe (a Strong Pale Ale)
Cherry Boof Cornester (ditto)
O'Busty Irish Red (an Amber Ale)
Pimperdiginistic The Blacksmith W/Cherry Stout

Sheer genius: and, yes, the wines demand her attentions even more than before. I am going to get in touch with her right now and see what she has to say. If wine is to have any future at all, this - the world of neural networks - is, I am convinced, where it will lie. Such excitement!

CJ



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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Fresh, tasty, authentic, vine-ripened… wine?

Tasty, home-made, hand-picked… food products seem to have adopted a whole range of product descriptions, presumably after the lengthy customer research which food marketers can afford. In some cases (see pic) these are presumed to be such potent messages that they dwarf even the flavour or the brand of the product. If they’re “hand-cooked”, who cares what they are? 

So. if these food marketing messages are such customer magnets, could some of them possibly work for wine?





 Home-made
I have never understood why a biscuit made at home would necessarily be better than one made in a biscuit factory. After all, the biscuit factory is dedicated to making biscuits, whereas a home must also function as a hotel, storage facility and entertainment complex. The biscuit factory has skilled, experienced biscuit makers; home has me.

And who would want a home-made television, say, or home-made shoes? Or home-made condoms, with their concomitant product, home-made fingerless washing-up gloves? No, I think we can do without “home-made” products, and that absolutely applies to wine. No-one is going to pay for home-made wine. There are far better, dedicated places to make wine than in someone’s home. Unless you’re talking about the Bordeaux home of the Rothschilds.






Vine-ripened
Unlike tomatoes, wines do not make a song and dance about the fact that the obvious place to ripen their grapes is on their vine. Effectively, all wine is vine-ripened. It’s hardly a selling point. It only raises the issue of where and how the other tomatoes are ripened.







Tasty
This childish epithet has always troubled me. What are the alternatives? Tasteless? And its crude simplicity would sit particularly unhappily with the supposed sophistication of wine. Imagine grand Burgundies and distinguished clarets, all shelved under a sign shouting “Tasty!” With perhaps a little shelf off to the side for Pinot Grigio.






   
Essential
Wine is essential.
Move on.

















Hand-picked
The idea of hand-picking takes on completely different connotations when it is on food packaging as opposed to a UKIP leaflet. And of course hand-picking is equally attractive for wine, where the mass-production alternative has a vehicle trundling along the lines, effectively hoovering the grapes off the vines – along with any birds, small rodents, insects etc who happen to be in the vine at the time. “Tasty”. Whereas at Domaine de la Romanée Conti, the grapes are not only hand-picked, but hand-sorted and individually examined for health. So hand-picked wine? Yes please – if not at £3,000 a bottle




Fresh
What, like Beaujolais Nouveau? 

 






 
 

Specially selected
Not just ‘selected’, like everything else on the shelves. Funnily enough, when this epithet appears on wine labels, “specially selected” is always in the cheaper ranges, never the good wines which discerning customers specially select for themselves. 








Responsibly sourced
Have you been sourcing wine irresponsibly? Buying it from the corner shop? Buying wine from the property said to be ‘next door to’ the celebrated vineyard? Ordering one of those ‘mystery’ cases, which ‘might’ contain bottles worth some phenomenal amount of money, but will probably contain the bottles which couldn’t otherwise be sold? If you don't source your wines responsibly, you deserve all you’ve got coming.

("Handcrafted, responsibly sourced salad"? Give me strength…) 




Authentic
What actually is it that makes a pasta “authentic”? Italian flour? Italian eggs? Combined in a factory in the Midlands, but by someone called Elena? By these loose kinds of criteria, pretty much all wine is authentic wine. Unless it has another term attached, like “Chocolate”, “Fruit” or “Alcohol-Free”.

Or, of course, if it’s fake. It’s not just expensive wine which gets faked; the authorities once uncovered a line of fake Jacob’s Creek. The bottles could be distinguished because they had misspelt ‘Australia’ as “Austrlia” on the label, a mistake many of us might make after a few bottles of Jacob’s Creek. No wonder they didn’t attempt to fake Trockenbeerenauslese.



Market
Ah yes, “market” produce, always a winner. Market fruit, with its attractive manhandled bruising; and market vegetables, quite possibly past their sell-by date but you wouldn’t know because they haven’t got one. Call any corner of a modern city a Market and you’re quids in, as long as you take your produce out of its hygenic plastic wrapping and display it on a slab of wood.

But what kind of market might we be talking about for wine? Perhaps one of those weekly affairs in a little French town, with local wines for just a few Euro? Oh yes! Count us in! Just beware of “market” wine labelled with a bit of brown paper and only the word VIN in felt-tip. They’ve probably just soaked the labels off some fake Jacob’s Creek.

PK